Watchdog report finds Facebook has failed to weed out 'boogaloo' extremists

·6 min read
A member of the far-right militia boogaloo bois
A member of the "boogaloo bois," a loose network of far-right activists. (Logan Cyrus / AFP via Getty Images)

Facebook continues to serve as a breeding ground for the extremist “boogaloo” movement despite multiple attempts by the social network to crack down on posts by adherents, who advocate a violent overthrow of the U.S. government, according to a new report.

The report, published Wednesday by the Tech Transparency Project, part of the nonpartisan Campaign for Accountability, concludes that Facebook “has repeatedly failed to remove ‘boogaloo’ extremists who are using the platform to plan for a militant uprising.” The report suggests that “Facebook’s spotty track record in removing these extremists, despite intense media attention on the issue and pressure from lawmakers, provides a window into Facebook’s deeper dysfunction policing its platform for things like hate speech and misinformation.”

TTP regularly calls out failures by Facebook and other big tech companies to enforce stated policies. For example, another report published by the group in May highlights how white supremacist groups are thriving on Facebook, despite the platform’s policy against hate groups.

Over the past few months, Facebook has announced a number of actions in response to reports revealing how anti-government extremists use private Facebook groups to organize and to share violent tactics in preparation for what they refer to as the “boogaloo,” a civil war against what they consider the tyranny of the U.S. government. In April, another report by TTP was among the first to highlight the recent emergence and rapidly growing membership of “boogaloo” Facebook groups amid the coronavirus pandemic, warning that extremist were fanning frustrations over lockdown measures while discussing “tactical strategies, combat medicine, and various types of weapons.”

In response, a Facebook spokesperson told HuffPost that it had removed groups and pages that used “boogaloo” and related terms, and insisted that it would continue to “enforce against any violations” of the policy.

However, Facebook’s network of boogaloo-related groups continued to serve as a meeting ground for anti-government extremists, who soon turned their attention from the reopen movement to the mounting unrest and nationwide protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In June, several alleged extremists, including members of private boogaloo Facebook groups, were arrested on charges related to either plotting or carrying out actual violent attacks against Black Lives Matter protests. Once again, Facebook promised to take action, first promising to make groups and pages associated with the term “boogaloo” harder to find, and then declaring an official ban on “a violent US-based anti-government network” that uses the term “boogaloo.”

“Despite those measures,” TTP’s new report finds that “Facebook has consistently failed to spot boogaloo activity and missed boogaloo groups’ simple name changes designed to evade detection.”

Armed protesters in Hawaiian shirts, which have become an informal uniform for members of the extremist boogaloo movement, take part in a demonstration against mandatory coronavirus lockdown measures outside the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing, Mich. on May 20, 2020.  (Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images)
Armed protesters against mandatory coronavirus lockdown measures, at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing. (Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images)

According to the report released Wednesday, TTP researchers have identified 110 Facebook boogaloo groups that were created since June 30, when Facebook announced its ban on a “violent” boogaloo network. At least 18 of these were created on the day the rule went into effect. In addition to the new groups, some of which have already attracted more than 1,000 members, TTP found that 39 of the 125 groups it originally identified in April are still active on Facebook, bringing the total number of active boogaloo Facebook groups to nearly 150 as of July 24. “That’s roughly 20% more than TTP had identified in April,” notes the report, adding that “material on bomb-making and other violent activity is continuing to circulate across boogaloo groups on Facebook.”

The TTP’s recent analysis also observes that that “many boogaloo groups have easily evaded Facebook’s crackdown by rebranding themselves, often co-opting the names of children’s movies, news organizations and even Mark Zuckerberg.” Despite promising to make boogaloo content harder to find, the report notes that Facebook’s algorithms continue to suggest boogaloo-related groups and pages, including those that don’t use the word “boogaloo” in their names.

Though most of the new boogaloo groups identified by TTP are private, making their content visible only to members, at least one of the one of the groups mentioned in the report, CNN Salsa and Sombrero Enthusiasts, is open to the public, offering some insight into the kind of content that is being shared, at least in public. One recent post appears to be a flier for a rally on Aug. 8 in support of Philip Archibald, a Texas bodybuilder who has been publicly associated with the boogaloo movement and was arrested last month on charges of conspiring to sell steroids. The post includes a photo of Archibald beneath bold text that reads “FREE PHILIP ARCHIBALD NOW,” followed by the address of the FBI headquarters in Dallas and an advisory to participants to “wear Hawaiians,” presumably a reference to Hawaiian shirts, which have become an informal uniform for boogaloo members.

Other recent posts shared in the same public group include a picture of a gun decorated with colorful Hawaiian flowers and igloos, both boogaloo symbols; and another raising questions about whether all protesters who block traffic should be subject to being run over, or just those who support Black Lives Matter.

People, including those with the boogaloo movement, demonstrate against business closures due to concern about COVID-19, at the State House in Concord, N.H. on May 2, 2020. (Michael Dwyer/AP File)
Supporters of the boogaloo movement and others demonstrate in Concord, N.H., against business closures due to concern about COVID-19. (Michael Dwyer/AP File)

A spokesperson for Facebook did not respond to a request for comment on the findings of the report, nor did they answer specific questions posed by Yahoo News about whether Facebook plans to take any additional measures to address the continued proliferation of these groups.

During a virtual hearing of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence and Counterterrorism last month, extremism experts emphasized the crucial role that mainstream social media networks, and Facebook in particular, have played in elevating boogaloo from a fringe internet meme to an umbrella term that has been widely adopted by a number of far-right, antigovernment extremists and, to a smaller extent, white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups.

“The true accelerant of these movements is the internet,” Heidi Beirich, the recent co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, said in her testimony at the July hearing. Beirich, who previously served as the director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, which tracks far-right extremist activity in the U.S., called on Congress to hold tech companies responsible for enforcing clear and consistent policies against the kind of content used to recruit members to these movements online. She and the other experts warned that failure to do would likely result in violence against both civilians and law enforcement.

Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., who serves as chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence and Counterterrorism, referenced the expert’s warnings in a statement to Yahoo News Wednesday, in response to the latest report by the TTP.

“Time and time again, Facebook’s response to extremists has been too slow, for show or completely ineffective,” said Rose. “We can’t afford to let people get hurt. Facebook and other social media platforms need to take sweeping action in response to these emerging threats — anything less is unacceptable.”


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